By Kieran Mulvaney
Timothy Bradley always liked to fight. In fact, he admitted on last week’s opening episode of “24/7: Road to Pacquiao-Bradley,” he was so ready to throw down as a child that he once even fired a couple of punches at a kid who accidentally and lightly bumped the back of Bradley’s legs - in his wheelchair.
He’s a calmer presence now, his aggression diverted into boxing from the age of eight, by a father who decided he “wasn’t going to have a thug living under my roof.” But if Bradley is a changed character from the tiny terror of Palm Springs’ North End, Manny Pacquiao, his opponent on June 9, is, it would seem, a much different man from … well, from the man who graced the MGM Grand ring last November 12.
Pacquiao struggled against Juan Manuel Marquez that night, eking out a majority decision in a fight that many had expected him to win more convincingly; but if the closeness of the verdict owed more to the fact that he was fighting a man who had fought him to a draw and a razor-thin points win in their previous two encounters, who has long been recognized as Pacquiao’s fistic nemesis, and who in hindsight deserved a lot more respect going into that third contest than he received, Pacquiao and his wife Jinkee feel that out-of-the-ring factors were also involved.
Pacquiao’s gym workouts in General Santos City are now, at least sometimes, immediately followed by a bible study group, led by the fighter/Congressman/singer/actor/businessman himself, a manifestation of a decision the Filipino made following that Marquez fight to turn around his life. There had been rumors of philandering; certainly, he admits on 24/7, there was gambling and drinking – vices, he says, he has now consigned to the trash can as he embraces his religion and his family life.
Whether such changes outside the ropes translate to improvement inside the ring will not be known before June 9. One might argue that a man who has won world titles in a record eight weight classes doesn’t need much improvement; conversely, the thought occurs that if he was able to wreak such havoc while wassailing until all hours, who knows what he might be capable of now?
Bradley, however, is unconcerned. He may no longer be prone to visiting violence on the wheelchair-bound, but he confesses to carrying around a chip on his shoulder, a chip that thrives and grows the more his chances are dismissed. That chip will likely be log-sized on June 9, because Bradley will be a heavy underdog, but he won’t care: After all, this is a man whose father threw a rock at his stomach during childhood training because they couldn’t afford a medicine ball.
If he can survive that, even look back on it and laugh, then theoretically he should have no fear of a pair of gloved fists. Even if they’re Manny Pacquiao’s fists. No matter which Manny Pacquiao shows up on June 9.